Despite school closures during the coronavirus pandemic this spring, Walla Walla Valley Farm to School volunteers have kept busy maintaining gardens at local schools and expanding the program south of the state line.
Program manager Beth Thiel said funding from an Oregon State Farm to School Grant now supports a garden education manager in Oregon.
WWF2S is thus partnering with Ferndale Elementary in the Milton-Freewater Unified School and Athena-Weston School districts.
New Manager Karen Wagner is working part time in both school districts. She is facilitating the building and utilization of new school gardens, farm field trips, cafeteria Harvest of the Month tasting tables and an after-school cooking club. Karen also helps to increase procurement of local products for use in school cafeterias.
"The Nutrition Services departments there also have state funding to purchase foods grown in Oregon and are very grateful that we can help provide farmer connections and promotion of fresh local foods," Beth said in the spring 2020 WWVF2S newsletter.
"While normally a community work party event would establish a garden, this spring in Athena, several volunteers worked independently at home on separate tasks. Piece by piece the Athena-Weston garden is coming together. It is the largest garden we’ve been involved in with 16 raised garden beds," Beth said.
Ferndale Principal Don Davis had a jump on construction as the building task was started last school year. Karen and Beth installed irrigation and planted the garden in early June.
"We’re looking forward to working closely with teachers in these schools to regularly utilize the gardens and work closely with the nutrition services teams to purchase and promote local foods," according to the newsletter.
Meanwhile, at school gardens in Walla Walla, produce has not gone to waste. They didn't have the usual salad-making parties, help students plant peas or install irrigation systems, "but Walla Walla Valley Farm to School is grateful to be continuing use of the school gardens and grateful for the renewed interest in gardening and cooking in our community and across the country," Beth said.
Adjustments were made in the spring for the numbers of volunteers and students engaged in garden events; the take-home activities made available to teachers; and the hours of maintenance accomplished in the gardens, according to the newsletter.
The dozen take-home activities WWVF2S created intend to keep students engaged in life science and exploring the environment during distance learning. Instructions, in Spanish and English, are available for anyone to use at the Sustainable Living Center website, slcww.org/garden-lessons.
In early May restricted access allowed volunteers to prepare the school gardens while following safety protocol. A combined 165 hours has been invested in cleaning, planting, establishing irrigation, trellising and harvesting at Berney, Edison, Green Park and Sharpstein.
The harvest that would normally go to students, instead has been delivered to the Walla Walla Senior Citizens Center, such as 32 gallon bags of lettuce, 31 pounds of fava beans, 15 pints of strawberries, two pints of raspberries and herbs and one gallon of snap peas.
Harvesting will continue over the summer. Garden Education Manager Tara Williams and Whitman College summer intern Noah Dunn will devise potential new methods of community engagement. Watch the Facebook page for progress at facebook.com/wwvf2s/.
"When students return to school in the fall, the gardens will continue to be an asset for hands on, outdoor science education and experiencing delicious fresh foods," Beth said.
For additional details and to share ideas, contact email@example.com or 509-386-2037.